About Elizabeth Lawrence

Elizabeth Lawrence was born in Marietta, Georgia, on May 27, 1904. The family moved several times, and in 1912, settled in Garysburg, NC. Lawrence "considered childhood the most important stage in a person's life," and had fond memories of her time in Garysburg.

 

In 1943, when she was asked to write a statement about herself for a horticultural journal, she remembered her Garysburg years:


When I was a little girl, my mother took great pains to interest me in learning to know the birds and wildflowers and in planting a garden. I thought that the roots and bulbs and seeds were as wonderful as flowers, and the Latin names on seed packages as full of enchanatment as the counting-out rhymes that children chant in the spring. I remember the first time I planted seeds, My mother asked me if I knew the Parable of the Sower. I said I did not, and she took me into the house and read it to me. Once the relation between poetry and the soils established in the mind, all growing things are endowed with more than material beauty. (From No One Gardens Alone: A Life of Elizabeth Lawrence by Emily Herring Wilson.)


In 1916 the family moved to Raleigh so that Elizabeth and her sister Ann might attend St. Mary’s School. Elizabeth then attended Barnard College in New York from 1922 - 1926. Upon graduation, she returned to Raleigh where she later studied landscape architecture at North Carolina State College (currently NC State University). In 1932, she became the first woman to graduate in this program at the college.


Elizabeth’s desire and passion was to garden and writing about gardening was what she knew best. In the 1930’s she slowly gained publication in a number of small garden periodicals, and then in 1942, A Southern Garden was published. It was lauded immediately. “Now, at long last,” wrote Charlotte Hilton Green, “there is a book on Southern gardening by a Southern writer that is a ‘must’ for every garden lover of the South.” It was reprinted in 1967, 1984, 1991 and 2001. A Southern Garden has long since been hailed as a classic.

 

In 1948, Elizabeth and her mother Bessie moved from Raleigh to Charlotte, NC, to be closer to her sister Ann and her family, who had moved to Charlotte earlier. Bessie purchased two adjacent lots on Ridgewood Avenue—one for Ann and her family, and the other for herself and Elizabeth. Elizabeth, now 44, and Bessie, 72,  began building a house and making a garden  just footsteps away from Wing Haven Gardens and Bird Sanctuary.


During her 35 years on Ridgewood Avenue, Elizabeth wrote three books: The Little Bulbs, A Tale of Two Gardens, Gardens in Winter, and Lob’s Wood. She also prepared over 700 columns for publication in The Charlotte Observer.


One of the most significant and interesting aspects of her life was her friendships with plants people and gardeners from all over the country and the correspondence she enjoyed with them. Her relationship with Katharine White is just one of these, and the book Two Gardeners: A Friendship in Letters edited by Emily Herring Wilson records their exchange from 1958-1977. Katharine White wrote in her book, Upward and Onward in the Garden, “I have learned more about horticulture, plants, and garden history and literature from Elizabeth Lawrence than from any other one person.”


Lawrence sells house and garden

In 1984, Lawrence, in declining health, moved to Maryland to be close to family. She died in 1985 in Maryland.